Written by Hanna Lee

Two years ago, Sydney Morris and Evan Stone were both teaching at a traditional district elementary school in the North Bronx. Morris taught 2nd and 3rd grade classrooms and Stone taught 5th graders. Both teachers reveled in their careers and were extremely passionate about their profession. However, they came to realize much of the control and responsibility they were granted within the classroom was lost outside of its four walls. Morris recalls the pair feeling they had zero say on the policy level.

“Policy decisions were made at the 30,000 foot level without any input from classroom teachers,” Morris says. “We didn’t have a say in the decisions that affected our students. We realized the need to bridge the gap between the people that create policy and the people who implement it.”

Morris and Stone co-founded the teacher-led nonprofit organization, Educators 4 Excellence in spring 2010 while they were both still teaching. Despite their age, the pair knew there was a need for a space where teachers could participate in the legislative process. The organization started with 16 teachers and has grown in less than two years to include 3,200 teachers. Educators 4 Excellence works to ensure that the voices of classroom teachers are included in education policy decision-making.  Morris’ passion for teaching transferred into a new calling: to give teachers a voice so students can ultimately succeed.

The organization offers teachers programming in three main areas: Learn, Network and Take Action. The nonprofit provides informed access to timely and relevant information about teaching and education policy. “We believe in the importance of bringing teachers together to network because it can be a very isolating profession,” explains Morris. “We give them the chance to come together with like-minded policy makers across the city through a series of events and panel discussions where teachers can share their ideas.”

To become a member of Educators 4 Excellence, teachers must sign the nonprofit’s declaration. The declaration supports a commitment to excellence by  elevating teaching as a profession in order to drive better outcomes for students. The main points of the declaration demands higher starting salaries with merit based pay, teacher evaluations established through a holistic and equitable system, the reestablishment of tenure, eliminating the practice of “Last In, First Out” for teacher layoffs and placing student achievement first above all else.

To put their methods into action, Educators 4 Excellence forms teacher-led policy teams. Groups of 15 teachers delve into one specific issue in education and look at research, surveys, other states and districts to devise an outline of what they would like to see in terms of education policy reform. Classroom teachers then advocate for their policy solutions by presenting to teachers unions, chancellors unions and elected officials.

Last year, New York City was facing upwards of 4,000 teacher layoffs. Many Educators 4 Excellence teachers were facing this very real threat and thought about how these decisions were going to affect their students. “We wanted to come up with a solution that would hurt our students the least,” recalls Morris. “We needed to figure out how to keep our best teachers in front of the classroom in this worst-case scenario.” The policy on teacher lay-offs was based on seniority, or “Last In, First Out”. Educators 4 Excellence teachers decided they disagreed about seniority being the best system. The organization presented their ideas to numerous elected officials, proposing that teachers should be evaluated on objective criteria aligned with student achievement. Ultimately, senate bill 3501 of eliminating “Last In, First Out” passed the senate, but it did not come back for a vote because layoffs were diverted.

Educators 4 Excellence focuses on how to create a system for teacher evaluations that fairly and equitably evaluates teachers, while also placing an emphasis on supporting them to improve. “One of my biggest takeaways from the classroom was the importance of building relationships with my students as individuals,” says Morris. “In the same way, getting to know teachers and understanding what keeps them going is why I transitioned to the work I’m doing now.” Educators 4 Excellence provides teachers an outlet to share their voice in the broader policy conversation to hopefully build better outcomes for all students.

 

 

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